Infrastructure & Environment

Florida Bans Local Uber/Lyft Laws

by | May 10, 2017

By Michael Auslen

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed into law a plan to build a 78 billion gallon reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee and a measure that will stop local governments from regulating ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

They were among 11 pieces of legislation Scott signed the day after lawmakers ended a legislative session in which many of his priorities were not funded or were ignored.

The water law, a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sets into motion plans to create a reservoir on state-owned land south of the lake, which environmental groups believe can help prevent toxic algae like the green sludge that fouled the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers last year.

"History will record that this Legislature not only acted, but we funded, to have southern storage so that we can stop and then ultimately completely get rid of all of the discharges that come from Lake Okeechobee," Negron said Monday night.

His proposal (SB 10) will cost the state and federal governments $1.5 billion. But it could take years of federal approvals and difficult construction to become a reality.

Republican Congressman Brian Mast filed legislation Monday to speed up the federal government's planning process, noting that "we cannot afford to wait another eight to 10 years to begin construction."

Scott also signed legislation (HB 221) that will allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate under the same set of rules statewide. When it goes into effect July 1, the law will put an end to city and county regulations of ride-sharing companies, including high-profile fights with regulators in Hillsborough County and Key West.

"Florida is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation because of our efforts to reduce burdensome regulations and encourage innovation and job creation across all industries, including transportation," Scott said in a statement.

Under the law, ride-sharing companies will have to meet the same set of insurance and background check requirements statewide, including $1 million in coverage whenever a passenger is in the car.

Also signed by Scott was a new public records exemption that, starting July 1, will shield the identities of murder witnesses for up to two years after the crime. The First Amendment Foundation had asked Scott to veto the bill and said it "suffers from a host of constitutional problems."

With support from the Miami-based Parents of Murdered Kids organization, HB 111 was spearhead by Miami-Dade lawmakers, who represent communities that grapple daily with gun violence. The lawmakers say the exemption could potentially persuade more witnesses to come forward and collaborate with law enforcement to solve cases.

Scott also OK'd the payout of $2.6 million by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to Jennifer Wohlgemuth who in 2005 was hit in an intersection by an officer who sped through a red light and hadn't turned on his siren or lights. Wohlgemuth survived but suffered serious brain damage from the crash.

Herald/Times staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

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(c)2017 Miami Herald

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